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Trust your employees, engage your workforce

It's been a bruising year for trust in public institutions, but it hasn't just been the banks, the press and politicians that have taken a hammering. Trust in businesses and leaders is also on the slide. Barely a third of employees trust their senior leaders, and the proportion of people who think that British businesses behave ethically dropped by 10 percentage points since last year to 48 per cent. Among the wreckage of scandals and bankruptcies, the issues of executive pay and corporate tax avoidance remain priority concerns for the general public.

Does lack of trust really matter? The short answer is yes - vitally so. Trust is at the heart of employee engagement and good relations. Evidence shows that employees who trust their organisations share ideas and information with each other and work much better in teams. These employees are more satisfied, more likely to recommend and stay with their employer, and more open to change.

Improving employee engagement is the top workforce priority for UK businesses this year, but organisations trying to engage employees in an absence of trust will have their work cut out.

Fortunately, Acas has recently published some practical steps to build trust. Key to this is establishing a good relationship between line managers and employees. Managers have to lead from the front and show commitment to an organisation's vision. They need to be visible and their leadership style needs to match the values and objectives of the organisation.

If managers put trust in their employees, they'll resist the urge to micro-manage or try to force their will. Training helps develop the confidence to let go where appropriate and have faith in other people's abilities. It can encourage managers to strive for everyday consistency in giving feedback, setting goals and ensuring wellbeing, all of which boost employee trust.

Regularly providing a range of means for employees to express their views and to act upon them demonstrates trust in their ideas and innovations. These forums should be routinely reviewed to ensure that they are effective mechanisms for open expression ('employee voice'). Regular meetings between managers and reps will increase co-operation and trust, and make it much easier to find solutions to problems as they arise.

Leaders who are able to demonstrate the four cornerstones of trust - integrity, benevolence, ability and predictability - will inspire a trusting and engaged workforce.

Acas can help your organisation improve its levels of trust and employee engagement, by providing free, impartial and independent advice, including the recent discussion paper pdf icon Placing Trust in Employee Engagement [120kb]. Acas also offers training courses on strengthening employee engagement, listed under Staff retention.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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